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Article By 
Greg Freeman

Spring Breeding Duck Numbers

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey showed an index of 3.9 million birds, down 17 percent from last year, but still 73 percent above the long-term average (1948-2012).

Pintail Pair

Mike Szymanski, Department waterfowl biologist, said blue-winged teal and gadwall saw the largest decline. “Blue-wings are coming off near-record highs, so it’s not unexpected to see the drop,” he said.

Blue-winged teal were down 38 percent and gadwall 28 percent. However, both are well above the long-term average – blue-winged teal 42 percent and gadwall 59 percent.

“Duck numbers are still really good, well above long-term averages,” Szymanski said, while mentioning that total duck numbers for 2013 are similar to estimates over the past decade.

Scaup showed a notable increase from last year, while mallards, pintails, shovelers and canvasback were essentially unchanged.


The spring water index was up slightly from 2012. Water conditions were good in larger wetlands, but many shallow wetlands were on the verge of drying up the week the survey was conducted.

“The somewhat poor wetland conditions probably resulted in losing ducks to Canadian nesting grounds,” Szymanski said. “A big factor was probably that our smaller, shallow wetland basins were not holding much water throughout much of the state and the larger wetlands were all frozen when ducks were migrating through North Dakota.”

Szymanski said water conditions were much better in the northern half of the state. “Duck numbers were down roughly 30 percent in the south central and southeastern areas of the state due to dry conditions,” he said. “However, breeding and renesting conditions aren’t reflected well in our data this year as most of the state got several inches of rain the week following our survey. That won’t change duck numbers, but it will mean better conditions for breeding and raising young.”

Additionally, the loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres was evident during the survey, Szymanski said, as massive stretches of land conversion to cropland were obvious. “The loss of grass will hurt production of ducks and other grassland nesting birds,” he said. “However, the recent overly wet conditions will also help bridge the gap a little bit for ducks.”

The Department’s July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall.


Pheasant Crowing Counts Down Statewide

North Dakota’s 2013 pheasant crowing count survey indicates that rooster numbers were down about 11 percent statewide compared to last year, heading into the spring breeding season.

All four pheasant districts had lower counts than last year. The number of crows heard in the northeast declined by 18 percent, southeast and southwest by 11 percent, and the northwest by nearly 2 percent.

Stan Kohn, Game and Fish Department upland game management supervisor, said only the southwest was initially spared a harsh winter, but a spring snowstorm in April buried much of the area in more than 12 inches of snow.

“Had it not been for the long winter in most of the state and the April storm, I would have expected a higher crow count statewide,” Kohn said. “But I think we did lose some birds during late spring, which reduced our 2013 spring breeding population slightly from 2012.”

The late spring snowstorms and cooler than typical April delayed breeding and nesting for all upland game birds, Kohn said, with early nesting hens facing rainy conditions, and probably some flooded nests. “On the positive side, this occurred early enough in the nesting season that most hens should have renested,” he said. “In addition, the wet spring seemed to jumpstart grass and forb growth in pastures, helping later nesting pheasants with improved quality of nesting habitat. Unless we experience some early summer weather problems, I still expect much better upland game production this summer from all our species.”


Fall Turkey Lottery Process Moved to September


The North Dakota Game and Fish Department moved the 2013 fall turkey license application deadline, originally set for July 3, to September to allow for a better assessment of the fall turkey population before determining license numbers.


The official date for the application deadline is September 4. Stan Kohn, Game and Fish Department upland game management supervisor, said the change will allow more opportunities for hunters. “Our fall turkey numbers are a lot more precise when we can use data from late spring and early summer before we have to finalize the proclamation,” he said. “Now we can thoroughly assess brood production, which has a direct influence on the fall population.”

For years, the fall turkey proclamation was finalized in late May, with applications out in early June and the deadline for applying in early July. Game and Fish made the decision to change the fall turkey process this spring, after a tentative application deadline of July 3 was publicized in news releases, online, and in the North Dakota OUTDOORS 2013 calendar.

Prospective applicants should check the Game and Fish website at in August for more information on the fall turkey license application process.

Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop. The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.


Summer Safety on the Water

Failure to wear a personal floatation device is the main reason people lose their lives in boating accidents.

The National Safe Boating Council warns boaters that most drowning victims had a life jacket available, but were not wearing it when they entered the water. “It is difficult to put a life jacket on once you are already in the water,” said Nancy Boldt, North Dakota Game and Fish Department boat and water safety coordinator. “The single most important part of safety on the water is wearing a personal flotation device.”

North Dakota law requires all children ages 10 and younger to wear a personal flotation device while in boats of less than 27 feet in length. The law also requires all personal watercraft users to wear a life jacket, Boldt said, as well as anyone towed on skis, tubes, boards or other similar devices.

Water users should make sure to wear life jackets that are the appropriate size, and in good condition. It is also important that children wear a PFD while swimming.

When purchasing a PFD, Boldt suggests considering the most prevalent water activity. Water skiers and tubers should wear a life jacket with four nylon straps rather than one with a zipper, because straps are stronger than zippers upon impact with water. Anglers or persons paddling a canoe should opt for a PFD that is comfortable enough to wear for an entire outing.

Water skiers and tubers are reminded it takes three to ski and tube. When a person is towed on water skis or a similar device, an observer other than the operator is required on the vessel.

It is important for swimmers to know water depth, as serious injuries can occur from diving into water. Large objects hidden below the water’s surface can lead to significant injury.

North Dakota boaters also are reminded that marine VHF radios are an important part of boat safety that should not be improperly used by operators. Boldt said they are intended for boat operators who are in distress and facing an emergency situation.

Regulations to help ensure safe boating this summer are found in the 2012-14 North Dakota Fishing Guide. A more comprehensive listing is available in the North Dakota Boat and Water Safety Guide or the Boat North Dakota education book. These guides are available online at the Game and Fish website,, by email at, or at a local Game and Fish Department office.


Fur Harvester Classes Scheduled

The North Dakota Cooperative Fur Harvester Education Program is sponsoring fur harvester education classes in Bismarck, Jamestown and Dickinson for anyone interested in trapping or hunting furbearers.

The free 16-hour course in Bismarck  and Jamestown is August 13, 15 and 17. The course in Dickinson is September 7 and 14.

Students will learn about traps, trapping and snaring techniques, furbearer biology and fur care. A field day allows students to make a variety of land, water and snare sets.

Upon completion, graduates are issued a certification card that is recognized by any state requiring trapper education prior to purchasing a license.

Anyone interested in signing up for the class should access the Game and Fish Department website at, click on the online services link, and “online course enrollment” under the hunter education heading.


Swan Application Deadline

Swan applications will be online and at vendors throughout the state in late July. The application deadline is August 14.

Hunters are encouraged to apply at the Game and Fish Department’s website, The website also contains application forms that can be printed and mailed. Regular license fees apply and no service charge is added.

Applications will be available at Game and Fish offices, county auditors and license vendors.

Applications are also accepted at the Department’s toll-free line, (800) 406-6409. A service fee is added for license applications made over the phone.

Residents and nonresidents can apply. Since swans are classified as waterfowl, nonresidents may hunt them only during the period their nonresident waterfowl license is valid.


Violations Surge During Paddlefish Season

North Dakota game wardens issued a record number of citations during the recent paddlefish snagging season.

From opening day May 1 until the season closed May 19, wardens cited more than 170 individuals as part of an annual saturation effort in Williams and McKenzie counties. Last year the citation total for a similar time frame was 82.

Robert Timian, North Dakota Game and Fish Department enforcement chief, said the agency has for many years brought in wardens from other areas of the state to help during the paddlefish snagging season. “Our main priority is to protect the paddlefish resource from illegal harvest,” he said. “However, paddlefish snagging is not the only outdoor activity during this time.”

For instance, only 11 of the 177 total violations were directly related to paddlefishing. The most prevalent violation was fishing without a license, involving 41 nonresidents and 12 residents. Littering was another common infraction, with 19 citations issued.

The wardens also patrol several thousand acres of state wildlife management areas in the two counties and issued 21 citations for possession of glass beverage containers and 14 citations for prohibited use of a motor vehicle.

In addition, wardens also cited numerous individuals with open containers containing alcohol in motor vehicles, and minors in possession of alcohol, and made three arrests on felony warrants and turned four drug-related incidents over to county sheriffs.

“On our management areas,” Timian emphasized, “we’re full service law enforcement.”

Enforcement saturation efforts are conducted statewide depending on the need, Timian said. “This isn’t only done in the northwest during the paddlefish season,” he said. “We bring in wardens for additional support for short-term, specific operations in other areas of the state as well.”


Watchable Wildlife Photo Contest

Watchable Wildlife Photo

The deadline for submitting photos to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual Watchable Wildlife Photo Contest is September 30.

The contest has categories for nongame and game species, as well as plants/insects. An overall winning photograph will be chosen, with the number of place winners in each category determined by the number of qualified entries.


Contest entries are limited to digital files submitted on disk or via email. Contestants are limited to no more than five entries. Photos must have been taken in North Dakota.

By submitting an entry, photographers grant permission to Game and Fish to publish winning photographs in North Dakota OUTDOORS magazine, and on the Department’s website,

Photo disks should be sent to Watchable Wildlife Photo Contest, C/O Patrick T. Isakson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, 100 N. Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck, ND 58501-5095.

Send emailed digital photos to Digital submissions can be either original digital photographs, or scans made from prints or slides/transparencies. Photographers will need to supply the original image if needed for publication.

Photo disks will not be returned. All entries must be accompanied by the photographer’s name, address, phone number and email address if available. Other information such as photo site location and month taken are also useful.


Put Garbage Where it Belongs

Watchable Wildlife Photo

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department reminds outdoor enthusiasts to do their part by packing out all trash from recreational areas.

All garbage should be placed in a proper trash receptacle. If trash cans aren’t available, or are full, dispose of trash at home. It is not uncommon to see garbage piling up around trash containers after they become full. Styrofoam containers are not biodegradable, but yet are often found wedged in cattails, drifting or washed up on shore.

Worn tires, old mattresses and kitchen appliances have found their way to public use areas. This illegal dumping is costly to clean up and takes a significant toll on the environment. Not only does it spoil the beauty of the land, it destroys habitat, has the potential to pollute North Dakota waters and can injure wildlife.

Littering violations should be reported by calling the Report All Poachers telephone number at (800) 472-2121.